Zheng Yu Talks Cinematography On “Promises, Promises”

Zheng Yu is a talented Cinematographer who wasborn and raised in Hangzhou, China. His family all hail form the entertainment industry in China and so working in this field came naturally.Zheng has now made Hollywood his home, working alongside the industry’s elite.

We caught up with Zheng to talk about his latest film, “Promises, Promises” which has been scooping up film festival awards around the world.

HELLO ZHENG YU, WELCOME TO ABOUT INSIDER! THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH US TODAY. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR WONDERFUL ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE. BEFORE WE DIG IN DEEP, WHO INSPIRED YOU TO BE A CINEMATOGRAPHER?
My parents are deeply ingrained in the entertainment industry—my father serves as a producer and manager at China’s earliest cinema theater, while my mother, once a make-up artist for stage shows. Growing up surrounded by this rich filmmaking background inspired me to embark on my own cinematic journey. In 2018, I enrolled at Loyola Marymount University, focusing on a major in Film & Television Production. I dedicated significant time to working on various sets, expanding my network beyond the confines of the school. For me, filmmaking is an ongoing learning experience. Beyond mastering the fundamental technical skills, I actively seek to draw insights from my life experiences, delving into the depths of reality to enrich my creative vision. Collaborating closely with mentors such as Griffin Voth and TinNgai Chan, I’ve not only honed my cinematography skills but also developed strategies for overcoming challenges that inevitably arise during production.

TELL US ABOUT THE FILM “PROMISES, PROMISES.”
The movie “Promises, Promises” is a sport drama film that follows a hardworking cross-country athlete, who after missing the cutoff to make the college championship team, decides to sabotage her top-ranked best friend in the most important race of their college careers. It is directed by Yunyi Zhu, and produced by Enyi Zhu, Joaquina Gentil and Charlotte Hendrickx.
We filmed in Los Angeles, Ventura Beach, Orange County, and Newport Beach.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE PROJECT.
The narrative is deeply emotional and personal, and I am committed to maintaining a perspective centered on the main girl in the story. In collaboration with the director, our aim is to achieve a natural and clean look for the images, requiring extensive time devoted to visualizing each shot. Additionally, I work closely with the production designer to carefully curate a limited color palette. This intentional choice is designed to immerse the audience in the world of the main character, fostering a sense of connection and resonance with her experiences.

WERE THERE ANY CHALLENGES AS A CINEMATOGRAPHER?
The film was shot during the challenging period of the Covid pandemic, and we encountered a significant setback when our supporting actresses tested positive on the second day of the shoot. This unforeseen circumstance necessitated a three-hour delay as we waited for everyone to receive a negative test result, putting us considerably behind schedule. To comply with Covid regulations, we had to send numerous crew members home, resulting in a shortage of manpower. The subsequent shooting schedule remained tight, and everyone had to take on dual roles while adhering to social distancing measures. This situation demanded exceptional multitasking and adaptability from the entire team as we navigated through the constraints imposed by the pandemic to ensure the successful continuation of the project.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TEA TO SPILL?
We filmed a morning running practice scene in Carbon Canyon National Park, where I operated the Ronin 2 Gimbal throughout the entire day, running alongside the actresses for various coverages. It was an exhaustive experience, but despite the efforts invested, the director ultimately decided to cut the entire scene, feeling that the narrative flowed better without it. A similar situation occurred during a day of shooting at Ventura Beach. Once again, I operated the camera for a running scene, this time burdened with the weight of a 60-pound camera rig on my body. However, the director opted to omit all the running coverage, deciding that the scene had a more compelling impact when captured through wide static shots. My apple watch showed that I did almost 4 miles of running in total for those days.

THE FILM HAS BEEN DOING FANTASTICALLY WELL ON THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT. WHAT HAS IT SCOOPED UP SO FAR?
So far, we have Official Selection: Silver Wave Film Festival; Big Apple Film Festival; LA Shorts International Film Festival; Montecatini International Short Film Festival; Chinese American Film Festival; International Sport Film Festival.
Plus, Official Nomination: ASC Heritage Award–Best Narrative Cinematography; Paladino d’Oro Sport Film Festival–Best Fiction, Best Short: Los Angeles International Short Film Festival and Best Cinematography, which I am particularly happy about!

CONGRATULATIONS ON THAT PRESTIGIOUS NOMINATION!TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
Ok so, if I set an alarm, I always wake up 15 minutes before it rings no matter what time it is.

HAVE YOU SET ANY 2024 GOALS TO ACHIEVE?
I want to shoot more narratives and explore more artistic ways of shooting commercials and spots. I also want to develop a feature with my friend and see how it is going to turn out.

ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS?
I have a short in December that I have been prepping with the director and production team for a while. I am also going to shoot a short in China in March and it is aiming for the Busan International Film Festival. It is a big project and I have been working on it with the director for a couple of months.

ARE YOU ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
Yes, you can find me on Instagram @jasonyuuuuuuuuuu and IMDb @Zheng Yu